THREE PART SERIES ON THE BEST WHISKY DRINKING MOVIES
By David Becerra
PART ONE, “DRUNKEN ANGEL”
A whisky-drinking movie is pretty self-explanatory. It is a movie in which, when you sit down to watch it, you are compelled to drink whisky. What makes a movie a great whisky-drinking movie? There are a few key components, but mostly it’s a kind-of “I know it when I see it” thing.
First, they are black and white. Second, they are old. Third they are fun to watch. Whisky drinking movies take their time. They linger around and are not in much of a hurry or plot driven. They usually take place at night and focus on lowlife and amoral characters. These “anti-heroes” make fun of people with appointment books. Oh yah, and the people in them drink whisky, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. They drink whisky, they talk about whisky; they hold their glasses up to the light and look at the beautiful whisky. Most importantly, they really enjoy drinking whisky.
One of the best whisky drinking movies is Akira Kurosawa’s “Drunken Angel” from 1948. Starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura this film takes place in a run-down post war Japan. It’s about an alcoholic doctor who tries to get a gangster to get his shit together and take care of his tuberculosis. Really, that’s what its about.
So, here’s what you do. Go and order the movie. Netfilx I know has it in stock. When it arrives wait for a night when you will be home alone. For the people who spend most nights alone this won’t be a problem, but if you have a spouse, encourage her or him to go out sometime without you. It’s important to watch a whisky-drinking movie alone. This is true for several reasons, but mostly you want the freedom to feel lonely, drink a lot and get a little ugly. Once you have the place all to yourself, wait until it gets dark out, then go to your favorite all night liquor store and pick up a bottle. For Drunken Angel, I suggest lower end bourbon. Three good ones are Jim Beam, Old Crow or Old Grand Dad. For me Old Crow works best for Drunken Angel. It’s nice, drinkable bourbon, with an old WWII taste to it. When you get home, grab a glass, turn out all the lights and put the movie on. When the “Toho Studios” logo comes on, pour yourself a glass and start sipping.
Drunken Angel has a fantastic opening. The first shot is of a patch of swamp, bubbling and running over with scum. Ominous low music scales in and you know instantly nothing good will ever happen here. This is a good point to take a large swig. The shot hangs around long enough for the credits to roll over, then heavy score gives way to the soft sweet sounds of a distant acoustic guitar. Cut to a few prostitutes trying to stay awake. Next, we see the guitarist far off in the distance, playing under a low streetlight. The camera rolls back over the swamp, where we see some upside-down houses reflected in the muck. Then it pans up to some street thugs. It’s a hot summer night. They toss rocks into the swamp, light up some cigarettes and do their best to fend off the mosquitoes.
Man, what an opening! What a set up! Wouldn’t you love to hang out here, lounge around by the swamp, listen to that guitar and drink whisky! Let yourself feel the summer heat, the pacing and the stillness of the night. Take some more sips and let yourself be transported.
Our first interior shot is of a ramshackle doctor’s office. The Doc comes in, unshaven and scruffy. He is shirtless under his white smock, which is casually half open with the sleeves rolled up. He is followed by a young man, his patient who’s hand is bleeding and who turns out to be a local gangster. The Doc pulls out a bullet from the gangster’s hand. Then he patches him back up, no Novocain, -nothing. The gangster rolls around in pain and the Doc tells him he makes it policy to overprice hoodlums. The two exchange words and the gangster starts to cough. The Doc checks him out and it turns out our gangster has TB, bad. The gangster is in denial and fights with the Doc. This is where the shit starts between the two of them and the main narrative question of the movie is asked. Will the Doc be able to save this gangster from himself and his TB? The Doc hates what the gangster does but has a soft spot for him because he thinks he sees a glimmer of a heart way underneath. But he has to fight with the gangster to get him to take the TB seriously. Sometimes the gangster does. More than likely he only takes the Doc seriously because he is the town drunk, a fellow outsider like the gangster himself. (Thirsty?)
Often the two characters fight each other. The gangster throws the Doc against walls and down on the floor. The Doc throws a bunch of shit at the gangster and yells at him. But the two share some good moments too. At one point the gangster treats the Doc to some really good whisky and in one lovely, lovely shot with the camera behind the bar, the Doc slowly leans in, hands free and sips some whisky from a shot glass. He smacks his lips and savers the beautiful flavor of the prize whisky he rarely tastes. Pure whisky enjoyment! Make sure you taste some from your own glass when the Doc has his.
At this point you should be fully enjoying a great whisky-drinking movie. You should be knee deep into your bottle and deeply absorbed by the story, characters and personality of the film. You are experiencing all the sensations of a small corner of life in post war Japan. The whisky has taken you there, and for about another hour there is no place else you’d rather be.